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Subject: Alina Pienkowska, a Force Behind Solidarity

died on Oct. 17
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Date Posted: October 28, 2002 9:36:07 EDT

Alina Pienkowska, a shy and soft-spoken nurse whose impassioned words turned a shipyard strike in Gdansk, Poland, in 1980 into a nationwide and triumphant movement called Solidarity that ultimately helped to bring down Communism, died on Oct. 17 in Gdansk. She was 50. The cause was cancer, friends said.

Ms. Pienkowska spent much of her life in and around the giant shipyard on the Baltic shore. Her father worked there and had joined in protests in 1970 that led to army shootings in which dozens of workers were killed. A decade later, the young woman, widowed and with a young child, was working as a nurse at the yard.

By then she had become involved with a very small circle of activists who distributed a clandestine journal called The Coastal Worker, organized by Bogdan Borusiewicz, a passionate proponent of independent labor unions who was later to become Ms. Pienkowska's husband. Mr. Borusiewicz is currently a candidate for mayor of Gdansk.

In August 1980, Ms. Pienkowska was a withdrawn, single mother with prematurely gray hair who contributed articles to The Coastal Worker on health-related subjects like the rising rate of industrial accidents. That month, Anna Walentynowicz, a decorated crane operator at the shipyard and another member of Mr. Borusiewicz's circle, was fired. On Aug. 14, leaflets protesting her dismissal were distributed, and a dismissed welder named Lech Walesa, also in the group, climbed into the shipyard and proclaimed a strike.

From the windows of her apartment, Ms. Pienkowska saw that a strike had begun. Rightly assuming that state security agencies would have cut phone lines from the yard in the hope of keeping the strike secret from the nation and the world, she called friends in Warsaw, who alerted Western reporters, making sure the news would spread through Poland over Radio Free Europe.

But her greater contribution came two days later when she was with her fellow strikers in the shipyard. By then, many smaller factories and government establishments in the region had been struck, with their workers composing lists of demands. On Aug. 16, the shipyard management offered strikers there a considerable raise. The strike committee agreed, and Mr. Walesa announced that the strike had ended. Thousands of jubilant workers headed for the gates and home.

Ms. Pienkowska was enraged, realizing that as a result of the agreement tens of thousands of strikers at plants throughout the region were being left in the lurch. She found the voice and courage to attack Mr. Walesa.

"You betrayed them," she said of the strikers beyond the shipyard walls. "Now the authorities will crush us like bedbugs."

She managed to shut one gate and pleaded for the strikers to stay and maintain the strike. Some lingered, but most rushed home to their families. But Ms. Pienkowska's message got through, and in many cases wives sent their husbands back; by nightfall the shipyard was filling up once more.

The strike had been salvaged in the spirit of solidarity, a word that would soon provide the free trade union movement with its name.

Among those who praised Ms. Pienkowska after her death was Andrzej Wajda, who said that she had been the model for a character in his film "Man of Iron," which was based on events in the shipyard.

He said the actress who played the role spoke Ms. Pienkowska's words: "Here in the shipyard I stopped being afraid, stopped running away, and became a real person."

Immediately after her intervention, she was elected to a new strike committee that was able to negotiate the historic agreement guaranteeing workers the right to form unions independent of the government or the ruling Communist Party.

For the next decade she worked for Solidarity, both when it was legal and when it was outlawed in 1981. At the outset of the martial law period, she was detained and held for more than a year.

In 1983 she married Mr. Borusiewicz, who was in hiding, in a secret ceremony. A year later her husband, still a fugitive, attended the baptism of their son while disguised as an old woman. Mr. Walesa, a guest, unsuspectingly kissed his hand.

In addition to her husband, she is survived by her daughter, Kinga; and her son, Sebastian.

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